Farm Ireland

Tuesday 24 April 2018

Let gardens have jagged edges just as life does too

Joe Barry

Joe Barry

Farmers have a unique advantage over people in most other professions. Even the smallest farm covers an area that is beyond the wildest dreams of any town or city dweller.

This, in turn, provides the space to create gardens that are unique to their owners and will be enjoyed for generations to come.

Many old Irish farmhouses have wonderful trees and landscapes with maybe an ancient orchard and attractive stone buildings. Yet, even without these assets, just having open ground available to plan and plant according to our wishes is a pleasure.

The thousands of people who flock every weekend to show gardens and garden centres are proof of our keen desire to improve our surrounds, as are the efforts of those heroic citizens who work tirelessly on 'Tidy Town' committees.

One of the best means of gaining inspiration and ideas for improving the appearance of our own homes is to visit the many gardens that are open to the public during the summer.

Occasionally, however, this can be almost a depressing experience as you wander from one immaculately kept flower bed to another, knowing this is a standard of tidiness that requires too much hard work.

But the type of planting beloved of our city parks managers is really not appropriate for a rural garden, and it is here we can take the high moral ground and state proudly that at home we are busy leaving the seed heads for the birds to enjoy and that rough corner of weeds is actually a planned wildlife habitat. Manicured gardens and lawns have their place and I wish the very best to those who enjoy maintaining them.

But there is an easier and, dare I say, a better way which is to take a slightly more relaxed attitude and create something that doesn't demand such constant toil.

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I recently enjoyed a wonderful afternoon when visiting Ballintubbert garden, near Stradbally, Co Laois. It is a place where there is something for gardeners of all schools of thought and the head gardener Andrew Farrelly showed how the garden is "a work in progress".

He said visitors should begin their walk by remembering the following: "For the ardent gardeners among you, be gentle. This garden is not complete, and many of our rooms are barely furnished. Some even have the odd judiciously placed weed. We will get to them, in time. Life has ragged edges, so does this garden."

What a great philosophy, and Ballintubbert provides endless pleasure as you move from one area to the next, winding your way through the "rooms", which are separated by thoughtful planting of hedges accompanied by viewing mounds, hollows and water features.

The first sections of the tour are through the least made areas, which are still mostly in their natural state, but easy on the eye and dotted with works of art and poems and passages from literature to read and then move on.

This is not a pretentious garden but rather a place where every intervention is made slowly and with care.

I think what appealed to me most was the feeling that there were so many things that I could easily do at home to enhance my own grounds without spending a small fortune and months of effort.

Winding paths through long grass and semi-wooded areas with the odd simple seat, made from perhaps just a log, are inexpensive to build but the resulting walks are priceless.

I do not want to give the impression that Ballintubbert is perhaps a wild and unkempt place. It is anything but. The Lutyens garden and canal and lime walks are beautifully designed and maintained and provide a contrast to the more natural areas, such as the orchard, where the grass is kept partially under control by a small army of geese and one Bronze turkey.

The house itself began life as a rectory in the 1700s and has been the home of many famous people since.

If you have an interest in developing and improving your own garden, do visit Ballintubbert.

Allow at least two hours and remember the words from their brochure: "When you have finished the first tour around, try to remember the parts that inspired you or interested you, and return there. Rest in that space. Be in no hurry. We have all day, and you are welcome here."

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Indo Farming